The Federal Railroad Administration granted RTD a five year waiver to operate University of Colorado A Line and the B Line after more than a year of persistent crossing gate issues.
RTD says it can now submit a plan to the FRA to gradually remove the crossing attendants, though there is no timeline for that.
Most importantly, RTD Spokesperson Nate Currey says that FRA has agreed that it’s OK if the crossing gates are activated within 20 seconds of their warning time.
“The FRA letter saying we do agree to this is a major victory,” Currey said.
As important as the FRA decision may be, it doesn’t supercede the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which recently denied a request to increase the crossing warning times. RTD says they will be focused on resolving the CPUC decision. It’s not clear how quickly that could happen.
That means that the crossing guards are going to be there for a while yet.
Still, it is important, so let’s quickly recap to understand why that’s important and what it means:
The crux of the problem is whether or not the gates’ arms are coming down in time to keep cars from crossing the track. Back in April 2016 when the A Line opened, the arms came down when no train was present, or sometimes, didn’t descend fully when a train was crossing, The Denver Post reported.
Denver Transit Partners, RTD’s private partner on the project, has since been working to resolve the issue. And as recently as August, RTD said DTP had fixed the issue.
The federal rule around this is that the warning system — in this case, crossing gates — should provide at least 20 seconds of warning time.
In a letter dated Sept. 8, RTD asked the FRA to consider gate activations within “5 seconds before and 15 seconds after” that 20 second warning to be OK. Or in federal speak, not “‘significant differences’ from the programmed warning time for each crossing.”
RTD says the letter they received Thursday says, “… FRA’s Railroad Safety Board determined that, subject to certain conditions, granting further relief to RTD on the A and B Lines is in the public interest and consistent with railroad safety.”
In a related matter, RTD says that the FRA has not yet responded to a separate request to resume full testing on the G Line.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated what the FRA waiver grants to RTD. The error has been corrected.